In my previous column I reflected on the Church’s mission of evangelization. The work of evangelization moves us to proclaim Jesus Christ. It is “the vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity,” according to Pope Paul VI in his foundational apostolic exhortation, “On Evangelization in the Modern World.”
The focus of evangelization efforts certainly include the mission “ad gentes,” that is, to those parts of the world where Christ has not yet been proclaimed, nor his Church well established. But the work of evangelization which is particularly urgent in our time and place is what Pope John Paul II began to refer to frequently as “the New Evangelization.”
Many people today are nomin-ally Christian or nominally Catholic. They claim to believe but act as if God does not exist. They compartmentalize their faith, as if it pertained only to Sundays or certain religious exercises. Their faith has little or nothing to do with the way they live their lives each day. Though they have not formally re-jected Christ or his Gospel, the lives of many Catholics are being shaped far more by the conventional values of the secular culture than by the liberating truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Rather than evangelizing the culture, that is, shaping the culture according to the truth, beauty and goodness of the Gospel, many Christians are being “evangelized” by the anti-gospel values which the culture espouses.
The faith of believers in our post-Christian culture needs to be re-awakened. This is our challenge! “You are the light of the world.” (Mt 5:15). The Church is in the world to bear witness to Christ. “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:16). Many Catholics shy away from their responsibility to become evangelizers. Perhaps they misunderstand their role.
While each and every member of the Church has a proper part in the evangelizing mission of the Church, some as pastors, parents or catechists, all are called to be witnesses to Christ. “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.” This saying, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, reminds us that the witness of a holy and virtuous life is the most effective and compelling evangelizing influence. This is the lesson that the saints teach us! Holy men and women will bring the world to Christ and renew his Church.
The challenge of the New Evangelization urges us to find new and effective ways of bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not a new Gospel which we present, of course, but new approaches, new methods and modes of presenting the Gospel which will be understandable and compelling to people in the 21st century. This is our task. This is our mission. This is also why I have spent so much time in previous columns emphasizing the universal call to holiness. We cannot give what we do not have. It begins with us. The evangelizers must themselves be fully evangelized. Our faith must be reawakened and set aflame. Our witness and efforts in the work of the New Evangelization will be fruitful to the extent that we are aflame with the love of Christ. “The love of Christ urges us on!” (2 Cor 5:14)